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“I don’t like to shop, but I do like to buy,” Frances Taylor wrote in The Atlantic in 1931. In an essay called “Who Wants My Money?,” Taylor laments how inconvenient the process of shopping is. “I am a business woman working on commission, and I make money which I like to spend,” she writes, but going to stores is “a time-wasting and nerve-racking performance.”
What follows is an entertaining account of Taylor’s mission to buy a list of items in two hours. After getting lost in a department store, she finally finds one thing on her list: a pair of pajamas. But they’re striped (“I wanted plain ones”) and have no pockets (“I adore pockets”). Later, looking for a bedside lamp, she’s told that they “only have one … it is pink and it is broken.” “I too am pink and broken,” Taylor continues, “but I manage to reach another store.”
Ninety-one years later, the internet and the algorithms that have grown with it make shopping easier than ever—but do we actually want all of these things we’re clicking on? The easier shopping gets, the more mindless buying becomes.
Today’s reading list explores the science behind how we buy things. The findings are both fascinating and a little disturbing, but you can at least use this knowledge as a shield the next time you hear the siren call of good marketing.
By Eleanor Smith
The scientific tricks stores use to part you and your money
By Jerry Useem
Will you pay more for those shoes before 7 p.m.? Would the price tag be different if you lived in the suburbs? Standard prices and simple discounts are giving way to far more exotic strategies.
By Amanda Mull
Americans can’t resist the lure of a well-designed container.
I’ll leave you with one of the most surprising findings in Eleanor Smith’s story about the science behind buying that ugly sweater: Research has shown that “consumers prefer spending money in stores with cool, blue-toned interiors over stores with warmer, orange-toned interiors, where they tend to be less enthusiastic and balk at high prices.”